Ruling near on Bryant transcript
EAGLE Will releasing sealed transcripts of Eagle County sheriff’s investigators interviewing Kobe Bryant after the alleged sexual assault June 30, 2003, hurt Bryant’s ability to get a fair trial?Attorneys representing the news media, including the Vail Daily, have asked District Judge Terry Ruckriegle to unseal, or release, those transcripts to the public before the trial.Bryant’s defense team argues that releasing the sealed statements would be harmful to their client.Those interviews were ordered sealed by Eagle County Court Judge Fred Gannett last fall before he sent the case to District Court for a trial. Information from testimony or interviews that is of a highly personal or possibly prejudicial nature is often sealed prior to criminal proceedings. Ruckriegle has already ruled that some of the information in the sealed statements may be used in the trial.The Bryant defense team issued a 21-page response in a filing made public Thursday to the media’s request last week that included 31 points of law supporting their contention that releasing it would infringe on Bryant’s right to a fair trial. That right is guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.”Although the media’s motion is adorned in the most glittering array of First Amendment finery, First Amendment analysis is not necessary to decide the motion,” attorney Hal Haddon wrote. “The disposition of the motion is controlled by the Colorado Criminal Justice Act and by Mr. Bryant’s fundamental constitutional right to an impartial jury and fair trial. Furthermore, numerous First Amendment cases reject the media’s claimed right of access to potential evidence before such evidence is actually admitted at trial.”Steven Zansberg, an attorney representing the media, will be responding to the defense’s arguments next Wednesday. He said the issue is clear.”Our position is that allowing access to those statements – not only what went on in trial and what went on before trial – helps the public assess the judge’s ruling to suppress it,” Zansberg said. Zansberg said there needs to be a balance between what is made public and what is sealed. Because he has not yet responded, and because a judge’s decision is pending, Zansberg declined to elaborate.
Floyd Abrams, one of the nation’s pre-eminent constitutional law experts, said the matter of media access to information isn’t an either-or proposition.”What the Supreme Court made clear is we don’t have to choose between the First and Sixth Amendment,” he said. “We can have the benefit of both.””When Kobe’s counsel argues that the Sixth Amendment right might trump the First Amendment that’s certainly not the way the U.S. Supreme Court views such cases. The rule is that free speech is allowed, and free access to public records is allowed.”Abrams said that struggle between the public’s right to know and a defendant’s right to a free trial is a balancing act.”It’s a constant balance being struck but one that cannot be struck by any sort of blunderbuss efforts by counsel or judges to prevent information from reaching the public,” he said.There are exceptions in every case, and that’s where the judge’s discretion needs to come into play, Abrams said.”The exception is something that would otherwise be public record has such a damaging impact on the ability of the judicial system to work that we allow occasional orders baring release of that information,” he said.
The news media’s response is being prepared and will be made Aug. 25, according to the media attorneys. Jury selection in Bryant’s criminal trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 27 – one week from today. It’s expected to take more than a week to select a 12-person jury from the 999 people who have been summoned.Judge Ruckriegle does not need to rule on the request before the trial, and he can issue a ruling when he sees fit, according to the participants.Bryant, 25, is accused of sexually assaulting a then-19-year-old woman who worked at the Lodge and Spa at Cordllera June 30, 2003. He said that sex was consensual and has pleaded not guilty to the charge.Bryant, an NBA player with the Los Angeles Lakers, faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation and a fine up to $750,000 if convicted.Bryant was interviewed in a session recorded by Eagle County sheriff’s investigators for 75 minutes, one day after the alleged incident.He is also the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by his alleged victim’s private attorneys. The suit isn’t specific on the amount she seeks. It only states that it’s in excess of $75,000.The District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting in the criminal case against Bryant, took no position on the media’s request to unseal the testimony, which prosecutors have said they plan to use in the trial.Dave Lugert, an attorney and former federal prosecutor who analyses the case for media outlets, said he thinks the judge will keep the testimony private. “It doesn’t make any sense to release this for the benefit of the media one week before the trial because it could prejudice Mr. Bryant and potentially poison the jury pool,” Lugert said.Another filing made Thursday by Bryant’s attorney Pamela Mackey was a petition to the court to receive daily transcripts of the trial from the court reporter. That requires a court order, and Bryant would pay the extra cost of those transcripts.Cliff Thompson is a reporter for the Vail Daily, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado